Fresh insight from US magazine shows that pared-down management structure and tight feedback loops make Steve Jobs's thinking permeate the corporation.

Guy Brighton
  • 10 may 2011

Powered by
This article titled “Life inside Apple: Fortune article reveals anger, management and ‘top 100’ club” was written by Charles Arthur, for on Monday 9th May 2011 15.40 UTC

An extraordinary picture of life within Apple, in which Steve Jobs is trying to create a “university” to teach incomers how the business makes decisions, keeps a “top 100” coterie who are told key decisions ahead of time and bawls out entire teams for failures emerges from an article published in Fortune this week.

The article (which is not yet online) indicates that Apple is driven by Jobs’s personality: “the creative process at Apple is one of constantly preparing someone – be it one’s boss, boss’s boss, or oneself – for a presentation to Jobs,” writes Adam Lashinsky, who calls him “a corporate dictator who makes every critical decision – and oddles of seemingly noncritical calls too”.

One key element of the company that had not previously been disclosed is the existence of a “Top 100”, not necessarily based on seniority, who gather every year for a three-day session at a sequestered location – one without a golf course, at Jobs’s insistence. Attendees are discouraged from marking the dates on their calendar or discussing it. They get to see super-secret new products before anyone else; the iPod, unveiled ten years ago, was first shown off at one such meet.

But Apple also runs an extremely tight ship, with tiny product groups; just two engineers were given the task of writing the code to convert the Safari browser to run on the iPad, a task that on its face seems like a huge undertaking that other companies such as Microsoft or Google might have devoted dozens of people to.

Jobs’s reputation as a manager who takes no prisoners is reinforced with an anecdote from the time in 2008 when the relaunched MobileMe cloud service had significant outages. Jobs called the MobileMe team together to the Town Hall Auditorium on the campus. “Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is meant to do?” Jobs began. On getting a response describing it, he replied: “So why the fuck doesn’t it do that?” A 30-minute tirade followed – and a new person was put in overall charge of the group. (Many of the developers left the group soon afterwards.)

Despite being on medical leave from the company, Jobs personally took charge of Apple’s response to “Locationgate”, over the revelation that iPhones and iPads retained a file which could effectively track the owner’s movements.

The article is presently only available as a paid download via the Fortune app on Apple’s iTunes Store, or as an Amazon “single” costing 69 pence to be released on 10 May – though it will be published in full for free access online in time.

The thinking behind that paywalled-for-a-period strategy is worth examining: Dan Roth, managing editor of Fortune Digital, told Peter Kafka at AllThingsD that “We’re trying to figure out the best way of releasing journalism online” – which means trying to monetise a high-interest story by keeping it paid-for over a limited period. Previously it couldn’t do this, but now that it can offer the iPad app to print subscribers for free (following a deal made with Apple), it can.

“There was this feeling that we’re sort of pissing off our subscribers,” by publishing the magazine’s best stories on the Web, often before paying customers got their hands on them, [Roth] says. “The problem was there wasn’t anything we could have offered them before.”

The article is fascinating, with in-depth analysis of Apple’s working based on dozens of interviews. A teaser post (“6 things I never knew about Apple“) from Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Friday led to a burst of interest that has seen the article being written about repeatedly, despite not being online.

Other information revealed in the article includes:

• Every Monday the executive team holds a meeting which reviews the entire business progress and products under development – in which 80% will be unchanged from the previous week

• Every Wednesday Jobs or Tim Cook, the chief operating officer, chairs a marketing and communications meeting

• Responsibility is taken seriously: Jobs tells anyone who becomes one of the 70-odd vice-presidents in the company that there is no acceptable excuse for not getting things done; he contrasts that with a janitor who might not be able to get access to a key to unlock a door for work.

• every executive action, product or project has a “DRI” – directly responsible individual – who carries the can (or laurels) for its outcome.

• only the chief financial officer is reponsible for costs and expenses that translate into profit and loss; Jobs reckons that Sony, for example, has too many divisions to create a viable iPod, iPad or iPhone competitor – a view paraphrased as “it’s not synergy that makes [Apple] work, it’s that we’re a unified team.”

• the “Jobs culture” extends through the company; everyone is meant to know what Jobs would think, so that they can do it without reference

• Jobs wants to institutionalise his way of running and driving the business, and to that end has created an “Apple university” inside the company – for which he hired an academic, Joel Podolny, from Yale Management School in 2008. Commenting on the details in the article, Horace Dediu noted: “Podolny has been building an understanding of how Apple is run. He’s then been asked to codify this understanding into a curriculum that can be taught to Apple employees.”

• Sometimes, the company spares no expense: it got the London Symphony Orchestra to record some samples used in its iMovie movie-making software; it sent a camera crew to Hawaii to film a wedding for a demo video, and then staged one in San Francisco using its own staff as guests, groom and wife

• Walt Mossberg, the veteran computer writer and reviewer at the Wall Street Journal, is referred to by Jobs as “our friend” who was “no longer writing good things about us” after the MobileMe debacle.

Comment: the question that many companies ask is: how could we get as profitable as Apple? How could we get as big as Apple? And how could we get as nimble as Apple (which has grown roughly 60% of its multi-billion-dollar revenues from two products, the iPhone and iPad, that it only started selling less than four years ago)?

It seems like the answer might be: structure yourself more like Apple. The problem with companies that grow bigger is that they lose the ability to move like a startup. Apple, it must be said, has probably undergone every incarnation a company can – startup, successful ingenue, mismanaged flop, basket case, imminent bankrupt, recovery prospect, surprise hit, behemoth. It might be that some sort of business Darwinism has been going on inside it. But in that case, it’s even more useful for business people to know how it works – so they can reach the final point without dicing with the “bankrupt” stage. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.


How Indiegogo Is Becoming An Adult Product Destination

Home september 23, 2016

Watch This Fire Pit Dance Along To Your Favorite Song

Music City Fire is a system that is designed to flicker in time to ambient music

Automotive september 23, 2016

Slick GPS Navigator Gives Directions To Moped Riders

This small, round device attaches to a sideview mirror to display maps for safer traveling


Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Automotive

See All
Home september 23, 2016

A Clock That Beautifully Manages Your Information Overload

The wall-mounted timekeeper is made to help people maintain focus and stay up to date with their appointments

Arts & Culture september 23, 2016

Performance Piece Blends Dancers Into Folds Of Light

The work provides commentary on the increasing connection between programmed and analog dimensions

Related Expert

Tara Greer

Digital Strategy

Design & Architecture september 23, 2016

Design Firm Adapts Childhood Homes For Unemployed Young Adults

The studio has unveiled three prototypes of transformed living spaces for people forced to move back in with their families

Health september 23, 2016

These Chocolate Squares Claim To Reverse The Aging Process

A group of researchers from Cambridge University have developed a candy bar that promises to give you a youthful glow

Cities september 23, 2016

Food-Producing Architecture Competition Seeks To Better Feed Cities

A design challenge in Copenhagen highlights the need and beauty of urban farming


Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry

PSFK Op-Ed september 21, 2016

Creative Agency Founder: Using VR As A Race Relationship Tool

Maurice Bernstein, CEO and Founder of Giant Step, explores the value in transforming headsets from high-tech entertainment tools into empathy machines

PSFK Labs september 22, 2016

The Future Of Work: Why Innovation Is Every Employee’s Job

PSFK Labs sits down with management at Johnson & Johnson to learn how the company comes up with their next ‘big idea’

Health september 23, 2016

Wearable Monitors Sun Exposure To Prevent Sunburn

The clip monitors UV rays to make sure you're not receiving too much sunlight

Op-Ed september 23, 2016

Productivity Expert: The Magic Of The Five-Hour Workday

Stephan Aarstol, Founder of Tower Paddle Boards, explains why the modern notion of office hours needs to evolve

Culture september 23, 2016

This Exhibition’s Crowning Jewel Is An 18k Gold-Plated Toilet

The piece, titled 'America,' is meant to raise questions about the country's wealth inequality

Culture september 23, 2016

Match Up With Dates On Tinder Based On Your Music Preferences

A new partnership with Spotify lets people pair up based on shared tastes in artists

Entertainment september 23, 2016

Capture, Cut Up, And Configure Your World In 360 Degrees

To meet a booming 360 and VR video-capturing industry, a multimedia software company bolstered its media editing suite for 360-video creation


Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders

Advertising september 23, 2016

These Trucks Drove Around In Circles For 24 Hours To Keep Time

The giant ticking clock was created by 14 Scania vehicles in a deserted airfield

Advertising september 23, 2016

Buy Movie Tickets Directly From Your Facebook Profile

The new feature is part of a campaign from Fandango to further imbed social media into the ticket vendor's digital presence

Asia september 23, 2016

Co-Working Space Brings The Calming Atmosphere Of Nature Indoors

An architectural firm in China has designed a new type of shared office that prioritizes the natural environment

No search results found.